Malaysia has shown the way. Its Lower House on Wednesday passed a bill to repeal the country’s much-criticised Anti-Fake News Act. There is no reason for Thai parliamentarians not to push for a similar change to this country’s very troubling Computer Crime Act (CCA) because this law has become a tool for authorities to stifle online communication and turn any netizen into a criminal.
Both laws have been criticised at home for promoting censorship due to their vague and broad definition of “false information” and their harsh penalties.
Malaysia’s law was introduced early last year during former prime minister Najib Razak’s administration. Its repeal was pushed by the government of current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad whose Alliance of Hope made abolition of the law one of its key election campaign promises last year.
In Thailand, since the CCA was introduced in 2007 by military-installed lawmakers following the 2006 coup, there have been countless recommendations and calls for revisions of the law. But little has been done.
This week, the same demand was made by activists following controversial moves by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry to have the police press a criminal charge against a young activist for violating the CCA’s Section 14(3), which prohibits the uploading of information that “could threaten national security”.
Additionally, the ministry also requires cafes, shops and restaurants to store and then hand over their customers’ WiFi browsing history as part of a campaign against fake news. This data retention is specified by the CCA’s Section 26.
The ministry’s move served to remind many of how deeply flawed the CCA is. In its original version, Section 14(1) prohibits the uploading of information which is wholly or partly fake or false. Due to the vague and broad definition, this section has been exploited by authorities to stifle journalists and activists, many of whom have been accused of defamation.
After the 2014 coup, another group of military-appointed lawmakers held talks with activists to hear their concerns about the law and then ignored almost all of their advice when they revised the law in 2017. Just a few positive changes were made such as a reduced jail term for violations and a specification that defamation must not be applied as grounds for an accusation.
Mostly, the devil is still in the details. The revised CCA is more repressive due to certain changes such as the replacement of the term “false” information by “distorted” information, which leaves room for broader interpretation. Many other controversial elements that compromise free speech are still there.
Since the revision, abuse of the law was rampant under the previous military regime. Anti-military activists, politicians and social media users have been slapped with criminal charges for producing or merely sharing online information which is obviously not a threat to national security or public safety as alleged by authorities. The information mostly damaged the reputation of the regime.
The CCA has mostly been used to serve the wrong purpose. It should instead be a law that provides network safety and cybersecurity to internet users against hacking, phishing and other forms of internet fraud and cyber attacks.
The current lawmakers must listen to the growing calls for drastic changes to the CCA’s controversial sections and proceed with revisions. All the ambiguities must be removed and clear definitions provided as to what actually constitutes computer crime.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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